Randall Arsenault: Using social media to break stereotypes, challenge the status quo
At first, Randall Arsenault may seem an unusual guy to be pegged for the title of a famous social media influencer. Having spent close to two decades as a police officer, Arsenault sees his social media outreach as a way to engage with the community and humanize the badge. “How I am online is exactly how I am as a person. If I don’t educate, I at least hope to entertain,” says Arsenault, who is famous for the way he spreads information about preventing crime. Arsenault’s work on addressing bullying in schools, homelessness and mental health are also important assets that he brings to his role as an OHRC Commissioner.
“I come from a policing family – my father was a police officer in Toronto,” says Arsenault. “But growing up, I never actually wanted to become a police officer. The reason for that is, I never really liked police culture.” What Arsenault didn’t like, as a child, were the collateral issues that could affect police officers – such as potential burnout, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide.
Arsenault admits he was a rebel growing up and got into trouble with the police himself as a youth. He moved to British Columbia to stay with his grandmother and complete high school. “After high school, I was kind of lost,” recalls Arsenault. “I was on social assistance at two different times. I remember my friend and I would go to a McDonalds or Burger King drive-thru at closing time. I knew people who were paying at the drive thru would often drop change. We’d go and look for spare change, just as a way to get money and buy bread because we were hungry. I was rebellious.” Eventually he got an apprenticeship in construction, and that helped him get back on his feet and “stay out of trouble.”
When Arsenault moved back to Ontario, to explore opportunities during the construction boom, his father was working with the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit. He is proud of his Indigenous roots from his father’s side of the family, which he discovered only after his father started doing work with the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit.
“That was the first time I really saw my dad in a different role, where he was very proactive and giving back to the community,” says Arsenault. The community engagement side to policing intrigued him and that pushed him to apply for the police service.
“I love my job as a police officer,” says Arsenault. Reflecting on how policing has changed since his father was an officer, Arsenault notes, “We’re constantly evolving, which is a good thing. This needs to happen for the public and it needs to happen for us.”
Arsenault has experience in Youth Services, the Community Response Unit, Street Crime Unit, Criminal Investigative Bureau, Primary Response and has worked with the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit. He was also the Service's first Community Engagement Officer.
Arsenault attributes his growing social media presence to the fact that he remains authentic and “does not put on a façade.” “I don’t take things too seriously, I get involved with the community and I challenge the status quo, even within the police service. Sometimes that doesn’t always go over very well, but it is what it is, and I’m okay with that.”
In between sharing jokes and funny videos on social media, Arsenault also uses crucial data such as crime statistics in neighbourhoods and stories about school safety to highlight important information.
In his role as a human rights commissioner, Arsenault has been vocal about the cascading effects that mental health has on people living with homelessness and addictions. "Someone asked me a while ago, what do you want to work on as a human rights commissioner? And they all kind of fall into one category. If I say mental health, I mean homelessness and I mean drug use. Because you know, they all affect the other," says Arsenault.
He adds, “It’s important for me to bring to the Commission a voice perhaps that’s not expected from an officer.” He has been subject to public scrutiny ever since he took on the role at the OHRC – which he welcomes as he continues to break stereotypes and challenge the status quo.
“I’ve been exposed to police culture and been around cops, my entire life. I’ve seen a good way of doing things and a bad way of doing things,” says Arsenault. He has built his credibility, both online and on the ground, by doing things the good and authentic way – by fostering community relationships or networks, by spreading information about crime prevention, and by adding a novel approach to both policing and human rights.